Crisis unit proves itself in saving money, lives


Moffat County residents who find themselves or a loved one in a mental health crisis may avoid a lengthy trip to the state hospital in Pueblo thanks to a crisis stabilization unit at the Public Safety Center.

The program has been in operation for almost a year now and was originally funded by grants from the state.

Essentially, the crisis stabilization unit is a program that aims to help people recover from an acute mental health crisis before they have to be transported to an out-of-town mental health facility.

When someone in the midst of a crisis is deemed to be a danger to themselves or society, old protocols placed them in shackles and shipped them in a van to Pueblo to be evaluated. But with the crisis stabilization unit in operation, patients stay in a holding cell at the Public Safety Center, away from the jail population, where they receive treatment from local mental health professionals.

When 10 psychiatric treatment beds at the Pueblo State Hospital were lost to budget cuts, Colorado West Regional Mental Health Inc. campaigned for and received a $108,000 grant from the state to provide local treatment for psychiatric emergencies. Colorado West Regional Mental Health Inc is a private, not for profit agency that owns 23 offices in 10 Colorado counties, including Craig Mental Health Center in Craig,

In an effort to be less dependent on grants and still provide a much needed program, Colorado West is trying to shore up local support.

"We're asking for $100,000 from (local government agencies)," said Barb Seed, who is the program director at Craig Mental Health Center.

Seed said Routt County already has pledged $57,000.

Originally, Colorado West was going to ask Moffat County for $40,000, but since the county already spends $22,000 on the related detox program at the Public Safety Center, Seed said Colorado West hopes Moffat County will chip in the $18,000 difference.

Last week, Seed met with The Memorial Hospital Administrator Randy Phelps, Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos and City Manager Jim Ferree to "see how we can work together to find a source for the $22,000."

According to Seed, the group promised to return to their respective boards to see how much funding they could pledge.

While the request comes in the midst of budget troubles for the county, Seed said the program actually could save the county money by avoiding costly trips to Pueblo. Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead said a "conservative" estimate for the cost of the Pueblo trip is $1,000.

The sheriff is not legally responsible for transporting the mentally ill. But Grinstead said he still feels compelled to provide the service.

"If we leave the community hanging, who's going to do it?" Grinstead asked.

"In 2001, we had 26 transports," Seed said. "That was a $26,000 cost to the county for transportation."

Since the crisis stabilization unit began in 2002, Moffat County only has had to transport eight people. That is a tribute to the unit's effectiveness, Seed said.

In addition to the monetary savings, Seed said the "intangible" human benefits are compelling.

Patients avoid the traumatic 6-hour drive during which they would be placed in restraints. They stay in the community, close to family and friends, and perhaps even their own therapist, if they have one. Also, their treatment is not further complicated by changes in medication.

Seed said patients sometimes return from the state hospital with their prescriptions and treatment plans changed by doctors in Pueblo.

"Often, once a client goes to the state hospital, they are released back to us with all new medications," Seed said. "It's not good medicine because the treating psychotherapist is not in on the decision."

The crisis stabilization unit at the Public Safety Center provides a safe place for patients to calm down and get clear of the crisis, Seed said.

Grinstead said mental health is a community issue and mental health emergencies can happen to anyone. The sheriff has seen people from all walks of life needing intervention.

"Everybody has crises," Grinstead said.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or

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